Helmuth Hübener, flanked by Rudolf "Rudi" Wobbe (left) and Karl-Heinz Schnibbe (right)
8 January 1925|
|Died||27 October 1942
|Criminal penalty||Death by beheading (guillotine)|
Hübener came from an apolitical, religious family in Hamburg, Germany. He belonged to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), as did his mother and grandparents. His adoptive father Hugo, a Nazi sympathizer, gave him the name Hübener.
The youthful Helmuth had, since early childhood, been a member of the Boy Scouts, an organization strongly supported by his church, but in 1935 the Nazis banned scouting from Germany. He then joined the Hitler Youth, as required by the government, but would later disapprove of Kristallnacht, when the Nazis, including the Hitler Youth, destroyed Jewish businesses and homes. When one of the leaders in his local congregation, a new convert of under two years, undertook to ban Jews from attending its religious services, Hübener found himself at odds with the new policy, but continued to attend services with like-minded friends as the Latter-day Saints locally debated the issue. (His friend and fellow resistance fighter Rudolf "Rudi" Wobbe would later report that of the two thousand Latter-day Saints in the Hamburg area, seven were pro-Nazi, but five of them happened to be in his and Helmuth's St. Georg Branch (congregation), thus stirring controversy with the majority who were non- or anti-Nazis.)
After Hübener finished middle school in 1941, he began an apprenticeship in administration at the Hamburg Social Authority (Sozialbehörde). He met other apprentices there, one of whom, Gerhard Düwer, he would later recruit into his resistance movement. At a bathhouse, he met new friends, one of whom had a communist family background and, as a result, he began listening to enemy radio broadcasts. Listening to these was then strictly forbidden in Nazi Germany, being considered a form of treason. In the summer of that same year, Hübener discovered his older half-brother Gerhard's shortwave radio in a hallway closet. It had been given to Gerhard early that year by a soldier returning from service in France. Helmuth began listening to the BBC on his own, and he used what he heard to compose various anti-fascist texts and anti-war leaflets, of which he also made many copies. The leaflets were designed to bring to people's attention how skewed the official reports about World War II from Berlin were, as well as to point out Adolf Hitler's, Joseph Goebbels's, and other leading Nazis' criminal behaviour. Other themes covered by Hübener's writings were the war's futility and Germany's looming defeat. He also mentioned the mistreatment sometimes meted out in the Hitler Youth.
In late 1941, he managed to involve three friends in his listening: Karl-Heinz Schnibbe and Rudi Wobbe, who were fellow Latter-day Saints, and later Gerhard Düwer. Hübener had them help him distribute about 60 different pamphlets, all containing typewritten material from the British broadcasts. They distributed them throughout Hamburg, using such methods as surreptitiously pinning them on bulletin boards, inserting them into letterboxes, and stuffing them in coat pockets.
Rudi (Rudolf) Wobbe and Karl-Heinz Schnibbe were very close to Hübener. Hübener started getting the British information from a Rola short wave radio. Surprised by the differences he heard between BBC radio and the German radio, the RRG, he decided he wanted everyone to know. He involved his closest friends. They did almost everything he did. After being discovered by the Gestapo, Wobbe, Schnibbe, and Düwer were tried with Helmuth and were also sentenced, although only Helmuth received a death sentence. They were later interviewed for Susan Bartoletti's novel The Boy Who Dared. They were key figures in her book.
Arrest and execution
On 5 February 1942, Helmuth Hübener was arrested by the Gestapo at his workplace, the Hamburg Social Authority in the Bieberhaus in Hamburg. While trying to translate the pamphlets into French and have them distributed among prisoners of war, he had been noticed by Nazi Party member Heinrich Mohn at his place of work, who had denounced him.
On 11 August 1942, Hübener's case was tried at the Volksgerichtshof in Berlin, and he was sentenced to death. After the sentence was read, Helmuth faced the judges, and said, "Now I must die, even though I have committed no crime. So now it's my turn, but your turn will come." Two months later, on 27 October, at the age of 17, he was beheaded by guillotine at Plötzensee Prison in Berlin. His two friends, Schnibbe and Wobbe, who had also been arrested, were given prison sentences of five and ten years respectively.
As stated in the proclamation (at right), Hübener was found guilty of conspiracy to commit high treason and treasonous furthering of the enemy's cause. He was sentenced not only to death, but also to permanent loss of his civil rights, which meant he could be (and was) mistreated in prison, with no bedding or blankets in his cold cell.
It was highly unusual for the Nazis to try an underaged defendant, much less sentence him to death, but the court stated that Hübener had shown more than average intelligence for a boy his age. This, along with his general and political knowledge, and his behaviour before the court, made Hübener, in the court's eyes, a boy with a far more developed mind than was usually to be found in someone of his age. For this reason, the court stated, Hübener was to be punished as an adult.
Hübener's lawyers, his mother, and the Berlin Gestapo appealed for clemency in his case, hoping to have his sentence commuted to life imprisonment. In their eyes, the fact that Hübener had confessed fully and shown himself to be still morally uncorrupted were points in his favour. The Reich Youth Leadership (Reichsjugendführung) disagreed, however, and stated that the danger posed by Hübener's activities to the German people's war effort made the death penalty necessary. On 27 October 1942, the Nazi Ministry of Justice upheld the Volksgerichtshof's verdict. Hübener was only told of the Ministry's decision at 1:05 p.m. on the scheduled day of execution, and was beheaded in the execution room at 8:13 p.m.
In 1937, LDS President Heber Grant had visited Germany and urged the members to remain, get along, and not cause trouble. Consequently, some LDS members saw Hübener as a troublemaker who made things difficult for other Mormons in Germany. This recommendation did not change after Kristallnacht, which occurred the year following Grant's visit, after which he evacuated all non-German Mormon missionaries.
Local LDS branch president Arthur Zander was a supporter of the Nazi Party, and had affixed a notice to the meetinghouse entrance stating "Jews not welcome". Ten days after the arrest of Hübener, on 15 February 1942, Zander excommunicated the young man demonstratively, without consulting his church superiors or holding a church court.
Four years later and after the war, Hübener was posthumously reinstated in the Church in 1946 by new mission president Max Zimmer, saying the excommunication was not carried through with the proper procedures. He was also posthumously ordained an elder, was rebaptized on 7 January 1948, and endowed on 8 June 1948 with information on temple sheets stating "All the temple work was done for him."
The day of his execution, Hübener wrote to a fellow branch member, "I know that God lives and He will be the Just Judge in this matter… I look forward to seeing you in a better world!" — from a letter written by Hübener, the only one believed to still exist.
A youth centre and a pathway in Hamburg are named after Helmuth Hübener. The latter runs between Greifswalder Straße and Kirchenweg in Sankt Georg. At the former Plötzensee Prison in Berlin, an exhibit about young Helmuth Hübener's resistance, trial, and execution is located in the former guillotine chamber, where floral tributes are often placed in memory of Hübener and others put to death by the Nazis there.
Depiction in books, drama and film
In 1979 Brigham Young University professor Thomas F. Rogers wrote a play titled Huebener, which has had several runs in various venues. Schnibbe, one of Hübener's co-accused, attended some of the performances on the BYU campus. Rudi Wobbe, another co-accused, attended one. Wobbe died of cancer in 1992; Schnibbe died in 2010. In February 2014, Huebener made its high school premiere in St. George, Utah at Pine View High School. Rogers attended the premiere and was pleased with the performance, and each scheduled performance and extended performances sold out.
Schnibbe wrote the first-hand account When Truth Was Treason. It was edited by Blair R. Holmes, a professional historian, and Alan F. Keele, a German-language specialist. This monograph was published in 1995 by University of Illinois Press, with new publishing rights, theatrical rights, and copyright transferred 2003 to Academic Research Foundation, a subsidiary of Stratford Books, Inc.
The book Hübener vs. Hitler; A Biography of Helmuth Hübener, Mormon Teenage Resistance Leader, by Richard Lloyd Dewey was published in 2003; upon selling out the first edition, a second, revised edition with new material and corrections was released in late 2004. It is a biography written in a popular-historical style. It includes interviews with all living friends and close relatives of Hübener before most of them died. It also utilizes primary documents from the Nazi regime that investigated his case.
Rudi Wobbe (Hübener's other co-resistance fighter) wrote the book Before the Blood Tribunal. Published in 1989, the book provides a personal account of his own trial before the Volksgerichtshof, the infamous "people's court" of Nazi Germany. Rudi, as he was known, was charged with Conspiracy to Commit High Treason and Aiding and Abetting the Enemy. Chief Justice Fikeis sentenced him to 10 years for his participation in the resistance. The account also describes events leading up to the trials of the three German youths and Rudi's own experience as a prisoner.
The 2008 juvenile novel The Boy Who Dared by Susan Campbell Bartoletti, while fictional, is based on Hübener's life. Bartoletti's earlier Newbery Honor book, Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler's Shadow (2005), also covers Hübener's story.
"German boys! Do you know the country without freedom, the country of terror and tyranny? Yes, you know it well, but are afraid to talk about it. They have intimidated you to such an extent that you don't dare talk for fear of reprisals. Yes you are right; it is Germany — Hitler Germany! Through their unscrupulous terror tactics against young and old, men and women, they have succeeded in making you spineless puppets to do their bidding." — from one of Helmuth Hübener's many pamphlets, subsequently also published in When Truth Was Treason: German Youth against Hitler, Editors Blair R. Holmes and Alan F. Keele.
"All I did was tell the truth and you have sentenced me to die. Now is my time, but your time will come." — statement made to the judges that sentenced him to death.
- Barbara Beuys: Vergeßtchen im Widerstand 1933-1945, Rowohlt Verlag, Berlin 1987, ISBN 3-498-00511-1
- Bartoletti, Susan. "Resisting Hitler". Nelson Literacy. Nelson. Retrieved 28 January 2018.
- Lexikon des Deutschen Widerstandes, Hrsg., Wolfgang Benz ; Walter H.Pehle, Frankfurt Germany, 1994, ISBN 3-10-005702-3, S. 236ff.
- Matt Whitaker (2003). Truth & Conviction (DVD). Covenant Communications.
- Holmes, Blair R., ed. (1995). When Truth Was Treason. Alan F. Keele. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. p. 241.
- Barbara Beuys: Vergeßt uns nicht - Menschen im Widerstand 1933-1945, Rowohlt Verlag, Berlin 1987, ISBN 3-498-00511-1, Page 488
- Nelson, David Conley (2015). Moroni and the Swastika: Mormons in Nazi Germany. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press. p. 309. ISBN 978-0-8061-4668-3.
...without consulting with District President Otto Berndt, Zander excommunicated Helmuth Hübener from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
- Richard Lloyd Dewey: Hübener vs Hitler, Academic Research Foundation, Provo, UT 2003 ISBN 0-929753-13-5, page 174-175
- "Hübener at Dixie State College". 2005-03-14. Retrieved 2010-04-26.
- Günter Grass (1970). Local Anaesthetic. New York: Harcourt Brace. LCCN 78100501.
- "PVH hosts high school premiere of 'Huebener', Drama tells story of Nazi resistance by Mormon youth", The Spectrum, St. George, Utah, 13 February 2014, archived from the original on 25 February 2014
- Scott, Kimberly (24 February 2014), "'Huebener' playwright discusses LDS Church-suppressed play, first high school performance", StGeorgeUtah.com, archived from the original on 2014-02-25
- "Theater Productions: Current Season ", PineViewTheatre.org, Pine View High Theatre, Pine View High School, St. George, Utah, archived from the original on 2014-02-25, retrieved 2014-02-25
- Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler’s Shadow Archived 19 August 2008 at the Wayback Machine., Scholastic Nonfiction, 2005.
- Millett, Lisa (28 January 2003), "Documentary captures anti-Nazi Mormon youths", The Universe, BYU
- Protecting the National Community From Juvenile Delinquency: Nazification of Juvenile Criminal Law in the Third Reich, by Wayne Geerling (Melbourne University)
- Gedenkstätte Plötzensee (Brigitte Oleschinski, published by the Gedenkstätte Deutscher Widerstand, and also listed in the German article).
- Lights in the Darkness: Resisters of the Nazi Regime — Youth Dissent
- Review of Ulrich Sander's book Jugendwiderstand im Krieg. Die Helmuth-Hübener-Gruppe
- The Price: The True Story of a Mormon Who Defied Hitler, by Karl-Heinz Schnibbe, with Alan F. Keele and Douglas F. Tobler. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1984. (This book was the first "rough" and considerably shorter version of the later expanded and revised title, When Truth Was Treason, noted above under "Books, Drama, and Movies.")
- When Truth Was Treason: German Youth Against Hitler, by Karl-Heinz Schnibbe, with Alan F. Keele and Douglas F. Tobler. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, and Provo: Academic Research Foundation/Stratford Books, 1995/2003.
- Hubener Vs. Hitler: A Biography of Helmuth Hubener, by Richard Lloyd Dewey. Provo: Academic Research Foundation/Stratford Books, 2004.